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High Court rules Pickles illegally discriminated against Travellers

Eric Pickles has been illegally discriminating against Romany Gypsies by using ministerial powers to personally decide planning applications about whether they should be allowed to settle on green belt land, the High Court has ruled.

Mr Justice Gilbart, sitting in London, said both human rights and equality laws were breached by Pickles and his department ‘calling in’ cases which would normally be considered by planning inspectors.

The policy, announced in July 2013 through a written ministerial statement, saw any appeals over planning decisions relating to traveller sites in the green belt, most involving Romany Gypsies or Irish Travellers, automatically referred to the communities secretary. The judge ruled that this “discriminated unlawfully against a racial group”.

No attempt had been made by Pickles and his ministers to follow steps required by the 2010 Equality Act to avoid indirect discrimination, and "substantial delays" had occurred in dealing with the appeals in violation of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, said the judge.

Inspectors' decisions are normally received within eight weeks of the end of an inquiry, but Mr Justice Gilbart said it could take six months or more for a decision letter for a called-in case.

He said the case amounted to a “a very substantial challenge” to the way in which Pickles had treated Gypsies and Travellers, who found themselves in similar situations across the country.

“These are not to be dismissed as technical breaches,” he added. “Although the issue of unlawful discrimination was put before the minister by his officials, no attempt was made by the minister to follow the steps required of him by statute.”

His test-case ruling was a victory for two Romany Gypsies – Charmaine Moore, a single mother with three children who is under threat of eviction from a site at North Cudham in the London borough of Bromley, and Sarah Coates, a disabled woman also with three children fighting to live temporarily on green belt land at Sutton-at-Hone near Dartford, Kent.

The planning minister, Brandon Lewis MP, said: “This government makes no apologies for seeking to safeguard green belt protection and trying to bring a sense of fair play to the planning system.

“The government’s planning policy is clear that both temporary and permanent traveller sites are inappropriate development in the green belt. Today’s judgment does not question that principle.”

The Community Law Partnership, which brought the case on behalf of the two women, said the implications of the judgment were “enormous”. It added that around 100 Gypsy and Traveller planning appeals overseen personally by Pickles since July 2013 could now be challengeable in the courts.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, which supported the Gypsy challenge, welcomed the judge’s finding of indirect discrimination.

A spokesman said: “We have a duty to protect everyone from discrimination and ensure that the law is applied fairly, consistently and equally for all.

“We understand the need to be sensitive about green belt development but this should not be used to single out individuals for unlawful discrimination.

“Planning decisions should be taken on the merits of an application, not the characteristics of the applicant.”

(Image source: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire)

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


Joan   26/01/2015 at 14:13

Well done Mr Justice Gilbart, I agree with your judgement re the breach of human rights and equality laws by this Government in the case of two Romany Gypsy ladies. Eric Pickles can make decisions about the green belt just to suit himself without any thought for how it affects people. I do hope some of the Gypsy and Traveller planning appeals overseen by him since 2013 will be challenged in the courts.

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